And, more importantly, Volokh says that public funds are not allowed to be used for a religious purpose. Period.

Richard Katskee, assistant legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, agrees. He says the county's "donations," as I've described them, are illegal.

"The government is not allowed to use public money to fund religious programming," he says.

The Missionettes are, by definition, religious programming. So is Stephen Baldwin's preaching from the stage in an arena. You could certainly make a better argument for using RICO funds for a "Christ-centered 12-step recovery ministry," like Covenant of Grace offers, but both Katskee and Volokh say that even those expenditures aren't legal.

"Any time you're giving public money to a religious group, there have to be restrictions that bar the use of these funds for religious practice," Volokh says.

So Catholic Charities can get government money to run soup kitchens, as long as they welcome people of all faiths, Katskee says, and don't require them to listen to a sermon in order to get soup. A Christian school can use government funds to pay for an overhead projector for math class, but not one for the religion teacher, Volokh explains.

That sort of separation, clearly, is not happening here. (See: The Missionettes, Stephen Baldwin, et cetera, et cetera.)

This isn't about contributing to proven social service programs. It's about shoring up Thomas' popularity with his political base. The churches benefiting from his largesse house the very people he needs to come out for him in what's sure to be a tight re-election campaign this November. It's Tammany Hall, only tailored to social conservatives instead of uneducated immigrants.

And the donations to Christian churches aren't the only RICO funds Thomas is using to win votes. He's also used RICO bucks in an endless campaign to increase his name recognition.

See those billboards along the road, telling you that Maricopa County Andrew Thomas is going after drunk drivers? RICO bucks paid for those.

See those silly public service spots on TV, in which Maricopa County Andrew Thomas tells you that it's okay to snoop around in your kid's closet? RICO paid for those, too.

Records show that Arizona agencies raked in around $24 million in racketeering seizures last year alone. Thomas' office, as the prosecuting agency in the biggest county in the state, got $12 million of it. While much of that gets distributed to local law enforcement, Thomas' office spent $1.6 million of it. (And, as much as Thomas is spending, Maricopa County is still sitting on a stash of about $12.3 million, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.)

Some agencies use the money to buy computers, or phone taps, to use in racketeering investigations. Others use it for anti-drug Web sites or commercials. It's up to each agency to spend the money as it sees fit, as long as they follow the Justice Department's broad guidelines.

Thomas' biggest expense has been the aforementioned ad campaigns, which are perfectly legal. But he handles them much differently than his predecessor, Rick Romley, did.

Romley ran his anti-drug ads in cooperation with the Partnership for Drug-Free America — a deal that made sense. The Partnership, which relies on pro bono work from the advertising industry, produces high-quality anti-drug messages — and uses research and statistical analysis to determine which ads are most effective. By using RICO money to buy ad time, Romley's staff ensured that the agency's campaigns were seen on TV screens during peak hours of viewing, not just late-night slots.

But when Thomas took office in 2005, his office's partnership with the Partnership ended.

Rather than buying airtime for the Partnership's ads, records show that Thomas hired Peterson Advertising to produce new spots. That company, which is based in Georgia, specializes in conservative causes. (Literally, its Web site boasts that "Conservative Causes: Our #1 Specialty!")

The agency had previously produced the commercials for Thomas' campaigns for both attorney general and for county attorney, according to his campaign finance reports.

So. Instead of using ads from the Partnership for Drug Free America, ads that would have cost him nothing but airtime, Thomas spent $128,000 in RICO funds to create new ads.

Why?

Partnership ads wouldn't promote Thomas.

In fact, the Partnership bars politicians from appearing in its spots. They're interested in ending drug use, not propping up political careers.

Peterson's RICO-funded ads feature Thomas' face, and his name — ad infinitum.

Leslie Bloom, executive director of the Partnership's Arizona chapter, says that her staff met with Thomas', but Thomas decided to take a different path. "Obviously, I think it's a case where they have their own goals and ideas of what they want to accomplish," she says.

And what is that goal?

Bloom will characterize it, politely, only as a question of "ownership" — as in, "Some people want ownership, and that appears to be the case here."

It's ownership, all right. Thomas' name and face are everywhere.

Earlier this year, after Thomas' office spent more than $215,000 on a silly 45-page crime-prevention booklet, State Representative Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, introduced legislation that would have barred public officials from putting their names on fliers and commercials paid for with public money. It was a good idea; not coincidentally, it never gained much traction.

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17 comments
Scott
Scott

I really hope the New Times makes a bigger issues of this when the election rolls around. The general public needs to be informed on his misdeeds come election time. I also hope New Times turns over their investigation to the AG's office for an investigation.

William Crum
William Crum

It's time for the legal process to begin. To put in the terms that Sheriff Joe's followers states, illegal is illegal. Take Thomas to court and either retrieve the public money or send him to jail.

ConservativeCC
ConservativeCC

im so sick of andy thomas and im a republican! im going democrat this election and voting for tim nelson!

Coz
Coz

Now there's is a fact....Romley just worked for the devil, Thomas is the devil.

>>It was bad under Romley and even worse under Thomas

REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OF
REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OF

To the Arizona Legislators. Please create a "Registry for Corrupt Public Officials", to go along with the "sex offender registry", the DUI Mugshots and Billboards, the Drug Mugshots and Billboards,etc.... Since the legislators and elected officials think these registries are a great idea, we should not exclude other groups, now that we have begun to create groups of sub-classes of people. So start now "REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OFFICIALS" -- you can use the RICO funds to fund it. It benefits all the public to know and see who the corrupt officials are. It would be a public service.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

County Attorney Thomas has brought the problems upon himself. He acts as though he is above the law and because he has made serious mistakes that have harmed people's lives and used public money he should not have for his own political agenda, he now seeks immunity.

While he actively seeks harsh long prison sentences for first offenders with no presumption of innocence or due process, and he promotes zero tolerance policies, then his own policies and beliefs should be used against him on the "first offense"! The public should not have to wait for which complaint is dismissed or not dismissed. Many complaints have been filed and we know the AZ Bar has rejected one or more of our serious complaints against Thomas. We feel the AZ Bar is either intimidated by Thomas actions and threw our complaint out, or Thomas is crying wolf like he did at Harvard. He has over and over abused his power against those he deems worthless. Since his reign has taken us back decades and centuries, then in other times it would have been said "off with their heads"! Andrew Thomas needs to reap what he sowed.

Andrew Thomas should be disbarred from practicing law in the state of Arizona to mark the beginning of cleaning up corruption in Maricopa County, AZ and the state. Thomas has threatened the very quality of life here and we are in worse shape then we were 8 years ago. It was bad under Romley and even worse under Thomas.

It's time for a New Face with REAL experience and knowledge of urban problems in Arizona -- we'll vote for Gerald Richard for County Attorney.

AZ Observer
AZ Observer

County Attorney Andy Thomas does not deserve anything better than, first offense, harsh punishment, be disbarred from ever practicing law and put on a "registry of corrupt public officials" for all posterity. Then and only then will he realize what he has inflicted on hundreds of professionals and people in Maricopa County. If he is responsible for creating over 40,000 felonies in one year going through Maricopa County Superior Court, then this is a prosecutor who is only interested in convictions for career gain, who does not seek fairness or justice, should no longer hold the office. Thousands of lives and families are destroyed in the process and the taxpayers foot the bill for this destruction, not only monetarily but a loss to society. Andrew Thomas must face the complaints and litigation coming his way. In the meantime, we need a new County Attorney. Those in his office who remain silent, are complicite in his misconduct.

Coz
Coz

http://www.eastvalleytribune.c...

Thomas cites 'immunity' in New Times lawsuit Comments 10| Recommend 2 Nick R. Martin, Tribune Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants a high-profile lawsuit against him thrown out because he believes he has "absolute immunity" from such cases while in office.

Thomas asked a federal judge last week to dismiss the lawsuit from Phoenix New Times, which accused him, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a private Valley attorney of a years-long conspiracy to target the newspaper.

Arpaio and the private attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, have also in the past week asked the court to throw out the lawsuit for similar reasons.

New Times was the subject of a criminal investigation last year by Wilenchik, who was hired by the county attorney's office as an independent prosecutor. The attorney was asked to secretly explore whether the newspaper broke an obscure state law by posting Arpaio's home address on its Web site.

The investigation came to a halt in October when the newspaper's editors published a story revealing Wilenchik had obtained a subpoena seeking Internet records for all the users of the newspaper's Web site. New Times never turned that information over and the matter was later dropped.

The story landed the editors in jail for illegally revealing a secret grand jury investigation, but it also caused Thomas to fire Wilenchik and end the criminal investigation.

New Times and its editors, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, filed the lawsuit April 29 in Maricopa County Superior Court, accusing the trio of officials of abusing their power and working together to suppress the paper's rights to free speech.

Last week, Wilenchik asked that the suit be moved to federal court because it deals with civil rights issues, generally within the federal purview.

New Times' attorney, Michael Manning, said on Thursday that the change of venue means the case will probably move more slowly, given that the U.S. courts are currently clogged with cases.

"But we're happy in either place," Manning said.

In asking the judge to dismiss the suit this week, Wilenchik also said he should have immunity because he was doing county business when he made the decisions in question.

While the lawsuit "is long on bluster and accusations," wrote his lawyer, Scott Zwillinger, "it fails to establish a violation of (the newspaper's) constitutional rights."

Manning said he is planning to respond to each of the motions one at a time, but declined to say what he would argue.

Said Manning of Thomas' and Wilenchik's claims of immunity: "I think they may have a different view after they read our response." Also from the evtrib:

http://www.eastvalleytribune.c...

Dem rivals attack Thomas on 'absolute immunity' Comments 6| Recommend 5 Nick R. Martin, Tribune The political rivals of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas lashed out at him Friday for saying he is entitled to �absolute immunity� in lawsuits against his office. One called it a sign the Valley�s chief prosecutor believes he is above the law.

Thomas cites 'immunity' in New Times lawsuit

The scathing rebukes came from two Democrats who are trying to unseat Thomas, a Republican, in an election this fall.

The candidates were reacting to news that Thomas had asked a federal judge to toss out a high-profile lawsuit that accuses him of abusing his authority during last year�s botched criminal investigation of a Valley newspaper.

Thomas asked for the suit to be dismissed in part because he believes state and federal laws make him immune from having to answer questions about his official duties in lawsuits.

Candidate Gerald Richard, a former high-ranking Phoenix police official, literally laughed at the notion when asked about it Friday. �Yeah, right,� he said.

�No one is above the law,� Richard said. �When you have someone who says, �No one can check me, no one can double-check me� � that really concerns me.�

Richard pointed to another move Thomas made just last week asking the Arizona Supreme Court to halt numerous ethics investigations into his office by the State Bar of Arizona because he believes the probes are politically motivated.

�My greatest concern right now is with Thomas giving this blanket statement to everybody: �I am above the law and I cannot be touched,�� Richard said.

Richard�s criticisms echoed those made earlier in the day by his Democratic primary opponent, Tim Nelson.

The former chief legal counsel to Gov. Janet Napolitano, Nelson said the investigation last year of Phoenix New Times �reflects a flagrant and dangerous abuse of power.�

�If Andrew Thomas is found immune from liability,� Nelson said in a written statement released by his campaign, �the only recourse for the citizens of Maricopa County will be at the ballot box.�

Thomas is one of multiple Maricopa County officials being sued by the newspaper over the bizarre and tangled investigation that ended last October with no charges ever being filed.

Thomas had hired an independent prosecutor to explore whether New Times had broken a little-known state law by posting the home address of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on the Internet.

The investigation later crumbled when the newspaper revealed how deep the probe had gone; it even targeted readers of New Times.

Thomas fired the special prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik, over the case but continued to say New Times probably broke the law.

In April, Phoenix New Times, which is the flagship of a national chain of alternative weekly newspapers, sued Thomas, Wilenchik and Arpaio, accusing them of collectively abusing their powers and targeting the paper.

Last week, the New Times lawsuit was moved to federal court and all of the defendants asked a judge to dismiss the case, calling it �frivolous� and �unprecedented.�

A spokesman for Thomas� office, Special Assistant County Attorney Barnett Lotstein, said Friday it�s important for the judge to dismiss the case because it could open the door to thousands of lawsuits from people who feel they have been wrongly

prosecuted.

�Every defendant in every (jail) cell could sue the prosecutor,� Lotstein said. �It would tie up the courts forever.�

State and federal courts have both said prosecutors are immune from the large majority of lawsuits against them. Still, both sides on Friday acknowledged that gross misconduct by a prosecutor, such as doing something illegal or unethical, is not protected.

Lotstein said the county attorney�s office believes it has not broken any laws and should not be subjected to such cases.

But most of Thomas� fights, his opponents argued, may have never existed if the county attorney�s office focused more on serious crime than politics.

�Why does Thomas spend all his time fighting journalists, the attorney general, and the Bar association?� said Nelson campaign manager Josh Kilroy. �Shouldn�t he spend that time fighting murderers and rapists?�

Concerned Christian
Concerned Christian

A starting place for those who want to complaint about RICO funds and public money, given to specific Christian organizations by County Attorney Thomas can contact, American United for Separation of Church and State. We spoke with a lawyer, Aram Schvey, who was going to look into all this.

As a concerned citizen and Christian, one day it's Christians, another day it may be another group. As a Christian, I don't condone elected officials using the Church and God to gain votes and advance policy and their agenda. This reeks of hypocracy when someone like CA Thomas has taken the money to give to the Churches, like taking from one to give to another. Thomas is someone who does not practice Christian values yet gives his "crime prevention seminars" in the Churches. He shows little humanity, fairness or compassion or civil decency, towards people, with his "zero tolerance" and "hang em in the town square" mentality and policies. Thomas is a destroyer, not a builder, and has the state and community in legal chaos while the taxpayers have to foot the bill! We've had enough of Thomas lies, hypocracy and misconduct. He is a disgrace to the office of County Attorney.

Hopefully American United for Separation of Church and State will help those wanting to file a complaint against County Attorney Thomas. As a concerned citizen, one might try calling and asking for Aram, a lawyer, in the organization, who seemed helpful. He can be contacted at 202-466-3234 or by email: schvey@au.org

Coz
Coz

Thomas is a Clown and Arpaio is a Joke.

Both are bad news for Humanity in general and Maricopa County.

Maybe they should share a cell together.....then they dream about spending RICO funds together.

Registry needed for Corrupt Pu
Registry needed for Corrupt Pu

Good idea -- RICO funds should be used to get the story out, equal to what CA Thomas used to build his name and "sell" himself.

Great investigative work, Sarah, keep it up. At least it's on the internet where it can be passed around. Thomas the taxpayers money to pay for his legal fees and to promote himself -- that should be a "felony" punishable with manditory minimum sentencing of 10 years minimum then get put a a "register for corrupt public officials", mug shots on the internet and the Billboards. That would be sweet justice.

Using the churches and God for political purposes is a disgrace. He's deceiving the public and good people of AZ.

Tidy
Tidy

The only shame here, is that it's a shame this story wont be seen by a wider audience.

Can we use RICO funds to get it shown on TV? Now that would really be fighting crime! It could end with Thomas in pink boxers....

Larry
Larry

RICO funds may just sink BOTH Nickel Bag Joe AND Candy Thomas in the election this fall! Vote for Dan Saban and whoever is strongist against Thomas. Maybe a 3rd candidate will emerge in the County Atty. race.

CooperG
CooperG

What's with the "normal" newspaper or TV reporters? Why can't they find this stuff? This needs to be investigated.

Ted
Ted

Sheriff Joe is also a master at using public funds to put his mug in front of the public. I was surprised when I saw a recent help wanted ad in the Arizona Republic for MCSO positions in the county jail. It included a picture of Joe and a blurb that basically said help us in the battle against illegal immigration.

Maybe you can ask Joe what people working in a jail do in his fight against illegal immigration or why he put such a political statement in a help wanted ad.

Mari
Mari

Wow. Someone should report this to the FBI. Or report him to the State Bar (heh heh).

Coz
Coz

Arizona, land of the most corrupt, self serving politicians in the US.

No wonder Arizona is going to hell in a hand basket.

 
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